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Ready For An MRI Scanner At 11.75 Teslas?

October 30, 2013
Written by: , Filed in: Neuroradiology
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A super MRI scanner being developed in Europe promises sensationally improved functional imaging of the brain at work.

Plus, according to Neil Savage of IEEE Spectrum magazine, it will be able to lift a military tank weighing 60 metric tons, thanks to a superconducting magnet designed to produce a field of 11.75 teslas.

That’s way more powerful than the 1.5 T and 3 T scanners in clinical use, or the 7 T models beginning to be used in research. It’s even stronger than the magnets used in the Large Hadron Collider particle accelerator, which max out at a mere 8.4 T (although they may get an upgrade).

Don’t look for the new scanner anytime soon in laboratories, let alone clinics. Project director Pierre Védrine, MD, PhD, said the first magnet should be assembled by September 2014, followed by the rest of the scanner. Then will come three months of testing, he said:

Probably we’ll have the first images by the beginning of 2015.

A European consortium has been working on the INUMAC (Imaging of Neuro disease Using high-field MR And Contrastophores—one suspects the acronym came first and then somebody had to figure out what words would fit, sort of) project since 2006. It eventually expects to spend about 200 million euros ($275 million). The project has faced formidable technical challenges, particularly in the precision required for the electromagnet’s coils. “We are pushing the superconducting material niobium-titanium very close to its limits,” Dr. Védrine said.

Partly because of a narrow field of focus, the first use of the new scanner is expected to be functional brain imaging. Current clinical MRI machines have a spatial resolution of about 1 millimeter (equivalent to about 10,000 neurons) and a time resolution of about 1 second. The INUMAC will have spatial and temporal resolutions of 0.1 mm (1,000 neurons) and 0.1 seconds, respectively.

Something else will have to be upgraded: safety protocols. Two secondary coils will produce an opposing magnetic field to shield the area outside the machine from the effects of the main magnet. But accidentally introducing the smallest bit of ferromagnetic material—or even an entire military tank—into the MRI room could have catastrophic consequences.

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MRI reveals that two famous brains were switched after death. For details, see our Facebook page.

Related CME seminar (up to 12.25 AMA PRA Category 1 credits™): UCSF Musculoskeletal MR Imaging

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